Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chillin' on One of Four Thousand Islands

Ferry ride to Don Khong
Since we were getting awfully close to the Cambodian border, and border crossings are often stressful, and the Cambodian borders are notorious for the corruption, we decided to stop in the Four Thousand Islands region of Laos for some forced relaxation. 

We rode south from Pakse (it wasn't a bad little ride), and followed the signs to the vehicle ferry dock. Colin rode down the steep, sand path to the river to make sure we were in the right place and negotiated a price with the boatman, leaving me at the top, then gave me the thumbs up to ride on down. The ferries here are two or three wooden boat hulls, connected somehow, with a wood platform and awning on top. The boatman placed a wood ramp between the boat and the sand, and Colin rode up and onto the boat. I don't like doing things like this, because once on the boat, there's no rail, no lip, no nothing to stop me from riding onto and directly off of the opposite side except for me. After a brief pause for a self pep talk, I revved the motor, rode up the questionable ramp, onto the boat, and stopped in just the right spot. Off we went on the short ride across the river. Once we reached the island of Don Khong on other side, the boatman pulled the boat up to the shore, put down the ramp, and off we went. 

Four Thousand Islands region of Laos
We rode to the small village of Muang Khong, where I scored a second-floor room which exited onto a very comfortable, wide verandah with a beautiful view overlooking the river. It was a perfect place to read a book and relax, which is what we were bound and determined to do for a couple of days. Once we were settled, we found a small cafe on the riverfront for lunch and watched fishermen cast their nets.  

It was another stupefyingly hot day, so we went back to cool off in the A/C for a while before going out again for a walk. We stopped in to see the pretty, old Wat that was located on the edge of “town” and then went back to the guesthouse to sit on the balcony and do some reading. We plan to spend our time on Don Khong doing as little as possible, and today was a good start. 

Later in the evening, we walked across the street to our guesthouse's restaurant on the river's edge. We enjoyed a Beer Lao while we waited for our meals to arrive and were treated to a bizarre spectacle swirling around the overhead lights. Since the sun was going down when we arrived, they switched on the overhead lights, and almost immediately, they were surrounded by a whirlwind of thousands and thousands of small, white moth-like insects. For the next 15 minutes or so, these bugs created a small tornado around each of the lights. More bizarre, was that after a few minutes the bugs began to fall out of the air and died shortly after landing. The waiter asked if we wanted to move inside the main building, but we declined since this was pretty fascinating to see. Most of the activity had “died” down (literally, they were falling out of the air and onto the table, into our glasses) before our meal arrived, so we were able to eat in relative peace. Before heading up to the room, we grabbed a couple more Beer Lao and continued with our reading.

Unbelievably beautiful sunset
When the alarm went off the next morning at 6:30, got my butt out of bed and went downstairs to ask for directions to the morning market where I hoped to find some fruit . The young man who was setting up the restaurant for breakfast pointed me north, so that's the way I headed. I walked until I hit the edge of the village and kept going toward the buildings I could see in the distance. After 30 minutes, I still hadn't found a market of any sort and had run out of buildings, so I turned around. On my return walk, I stopped to ask a couple of women in the village where the market was, and they each pointed in a different direction. Totally confused, I continued back toward the guesthouse. Along the way, I did spot a small shop with a pile of watermelons on the floor and a small girl sitting next to them. I went inside, said hello, and asked the price. The number she gave was fair, so I left with my backpack stuffed with a very round watermelon for breakfast. When I got back to the guesthouse, I ordered coffee and cut up the melon, which we enjoyed on the verandah while watching the boats on the river.

Rice paddy at sunset
After breakfast, we pulled the bikes into a shady spot and changed the oil. We are supposed to be doing it about every 2,000 miles, but much to our surprise, it had been nearly 3,000 since we changed it in Bangkok (really? we've already ridden 3,000 miles in just over a month?). We have the drill down pat, so we were finished with the job and cleaned up before it even got too blazing hot. The rest of the day, we spent on the verandah reading and doing a bit of writing (relax, dammit, whether you like it or not!). At right around 5:00 pm, we got on the bikes to ride around the island to see the sunset. The village of Muang Khong is on the east side of the island, so you get some pretty sunrise views, I imagine, if you actually get up early enough to see them. Neither of us is an early riser except out of necessity so we miss most of them. Once we were beyond the village of Muang Khong, the landscape changed to open rice paddy toward the middle of the island, and even tinier villages dotted along the perimeter road around the island. The island was much larger than I realized, and we kept riding, and riding. I thought it was only about five miles long, but it's more like twelve miles long and five miles wide. We eventually did turn the curve around the northern end of the island to head along the western side as the sun fell lower in the sky. 

I think I might just need a pet water buffalo!
In the rice paddies, we passed many water buffaloes, and in a yard in one of the villages, I saw the smallest water buffalo calf ever. I turned around and pulled off the side of the road to get a better look. It must have been a couple of weeks old; its feet and ears were at least three sizes too big for its body, and someone had tied a green, patterned scarf around its neck. The calf and its mother were standing right at the edge of the road, and when I walked toward the calf, it took a couple of steps toward me and looked back at me curiously. The family whose buffalo I was oohing and aahing over came out of their house to see what interested me so, and when they saw what it was, the woman began to laugh. After I had snapped a few pictures, I waved goodbye to the people and rode on. The scenery and light were beautiful. We eventually did come to a much larger town on the western side of the island, which had a big market and boat landings. Since the sun was just about to hit the horizon, we stopped at the landing to watch it set. We then rode back across the middle of the island to our side, making it home just before dark.. It was a lovely ride and nice to see more of the island than just our little pocket.

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